French wine returns from a year in space

Wine scientists are preparing to see how a case of Bordeaux has changed during 14 months in space

6 March 2021
The French space agency helped to overcome practical and legal hurdles with Nasa and a prestigious red wine was allowed on board
By Connexion journalist

Through a lucky alignment of the planets, the Institut des Sciences de la Vigne et du Vin was allotted space on Space X cargo flights to the International Space Station (ISS).

France contributes to the ISS, so gets to suggest and take part in experiments on it.

Professor Philippe Darriet, told The Connexion: “No one had ever studied the effect of micro-gravity and solar radiation on wine.

“We are specialists in how the chemical composition of wine affects sensory perceptions.

“There is no other way of seeing how a wine evolves in conditions of micro-gravity, and the G-forces involved in a rocket launch.”

Professor Philippe Darriet
Professor Philippe Darriet

Usually, everything that goes on to a spaceship is controlled by Nasa. The French space agency helped to overcome practical and legal hurdles, and finally a good red wine – from a prestigious chateau – was allowed on board.

The bottles were specially packaged to cope with the stresses of the launch and landing, then kept in a store room at around 3C.

“Wine should ideally be matured in the dark, in humid conditions at between 10C and 15C, not shaken about by rocket launches, kept very cold or bombarded with radiation, so it will be interesting to see how it survived,” said Prof Darriet.

In March, taste tests and chemical analysis of the space wine and a control sample will be carried out. “Who knows, we could be surprised and find it has matured in a really interesting way,” he said.

Meet the producer: Mas des Tourelles and vineyard that dates back to Roman times

Drink like a Roman at the Mas des Tourelles, just outside Beaucaire (Gard) in the triangle formed by Nîmes, Avignon and Arles. Upon discovering that the vineyards are planted on the site of a Roman villa, a partial archaeological dig was carried out establishing that the site had been an important spot for producing and selling wine and olive oil for thousands of years.

Mas des Tourelles lies on the site of a Roman villa

The fragments of pots and other artifacts are displayed in the reconstructed Roman wine cellar, complete with the wooden grape press needed to make wine just like they did in Roman times.

Every year in early September, to the delight of tourists who come to watch proceedings, a small number of vines are harvested by workers in Roman outfits, who then tread the grapes in the wine cellar and shovel them into the massive wooden press. This is operated by hand and the juice flows into large clay pots for subsequent vinification.

“Doing everything the traditional way, just as we think they did when the Romans lived here, is very special,” says Virginie Habrard, the estate manager. “A slice of living history. Some people come back to see it every year.”

Reconstructed Roman wine cellar at Mas des Tourelles

Three wines are then produced; all of them as authentically Roman as research allows, and tasting them is an education in itself. ‘Mulsum’ is a white wine flavoured with honey making it a favourite for apéros, but it would also be very nice with foie gras. Turriculae is a light red wine made using sea salt, which gives it a very unusual flavour, like eating peanuts and drinking red wine. Carenum is another red wine, but this time flavoured with quince. It would be very good with red meats.

These Roman drinks are not in fact wines, as the legal definition of wine is exceptionally strict these days. The estate does also, however, produce a selection of modern wines, which are just as worthy of tasting alongside a small selection of Roman style patés and apéro snacks.

Visitors can tour the estate and the Roman cellar, see a short video explaining the production of Roman wine, and enjoy tastings. Wines can also be bought online.

The estate is open to visitors all year round, but it is wise to check the website for Covid restrictions before planning a visit.

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